What is Coeliac Disease?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease estimated to affect 1 in 70 Australians. It occurs in both men and women and can develop at any age. Coeliac disease is not contagious, you cannot ‘catch’ it, it only occurs in those who are born with the genetic predisposition.
For people with coeliac disease, eating gluten (a protein found in wheat, oats, barley, and rye) triggers an immune response. This causes damage to the lining of the small bowel through inflammation and flattening of the villi (finger-like protrusions on the surface of the bowel).
The villi increase the bowels’ surface area to allow for the absorption of nutrients. Without them, the body can’t absorb some nutrients from food. This causes malnutrition and can lead to serious health conditions.
It’s estimated that 80% of Australians who have coeliac disease have not yet been diagnosed, meaning the majority of those who suffer from the condition, don’t know it.
The symptoms of coeliac disease can vary from person to person. Some people don’t experience any symptoms while others can become very unwell.
Common digestive symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
Coeliac disease can also cause symptoms unrelated to the digestive system for many sufferers. These can include:
- Iron deficiency anaemia
- Loss of bone density
- Skin rashes
- Mouth ulcers
- Joint pain
The exact cause of coeliac disease is unknown, but we do know that both genetic and environmental factors can contribute to the development of the disease.
Coeliac disease is hereditary, meaning it runs in families. A person who has an immediate relative with coeliac disease has a 1 in 10 chance of developing the disease themselves.
Several risk factors may increase the chances of developing coeliac disease. This includes gastrointestinal infections, an individual’s specific gut bacteria, viral infections, emotional stress, pregnancy, and surgery, among other things.
If you think you may have coeliac disease you can visit us at Moonee Valley Specialist Centre for diagnostic testing.
Diagnosis usually starts with a simple blood test. The coeliac serology test looks for antibodies that are present in the blood of someone who has coeliac disease. This test will only be accurate if you have gluten in your diet, so don’t change your diet yet, we need to see how gluten is affecting your body.
Our gastroenterologist may take a small sample of tissue (biopsy) through a procedure called a gastroscopy. A gastroscopy is a day procedure, performed under light sedation in hospital. This procedure involves passing a small, flexible camera, down through your mouth, to get a view of your oesophagus, stomach, and small bowel. Biopsies are then sent to the lab for testing.
After your gastroscopy, you will have a follow-up appointment at Moonee Valley Specialist Centre to discuss your results and plan your treatment.
At this stage, there is no cure for coeliac disease. The only treatment is to follow a lifelong gluten-free diet. Most people find that sticking strictly to the diet helps their body to heal, allowing them to feel much better, quite quickly.
Fortunately, many gluten-free options are available in supermarkets and restaurants, making it easier than ever to avoid gluten without having to give up the foods you enjoy.
How Moonee Valley Specialist Centre can help
If left undiagnosed, the malabsorption of nutrients and chronic inflammation that results from coeliac disease can cause long-term health effects. If you think you may be having a reaction to gluten in your diet, first contact your General Practitioner (GP) for a referral to our Gastroenterologist.
At Moonee Valley Specialist Centre our gastroenterologist, Dr. Nathan Connelley along with our empathetic and caring team can provide assessment, diagnosis, and management of coeliac disease.
Please make sure you bring your GP referral with you to your first appointment at Moonee Valley Specialist Centre. A referral will last for 12 months.
*All information is general in nature and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. See a doctor if you experience a persistent change in bowel habits or if you have signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.